The real Style of Bush’s faith

One of the things that young reporters struggle with is the realization that there is no one perfect way to approach a given news story. In fact, different publications my approach the same story in radically different ways.

It’s like that old copy-desk joke about the headlines that would run in different newspapers in response to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ/The End of the World/Etc., etc. Here’s a sample:

USA Today: WE’RE DEAD

The Wall Street Journal: DOW JONES PLUMMETS AS WORLD ENDS

National Enquirer: OJ AND NICOLE, TOGETHER AGAIN

Discover Magazine: HOW WILL THE EXTINCTION OF ALL LIFE AS WE KNOW IT AFFECT THE WAY WE VIEW THE COSMOS?

Ladies Home Journal: LOSE 10 POUNDS BY JUDGMENT DAY WITH OUR NEW “ARMAGEDDON” DIET!

The New York Times: MILLIONS SEE HUMAN IN SKY, CLAIM IT’S JESUS CHRIST; WHITE HOUSE BLAMES RELIGIOUS RIGHT

The New York Post: THE END

You get the idea. The list can go on and on.

I bring this up because of the amazing range of stories that are being written about the new memoir by former President George W. Bush. So far, it seems that Bush’s renewed faith — linked to his decision to stop drinking alcohol — is literally at the heart of “Decision Points.” In other word, all of the other decision points follow, and grow out of, this religious decision.

Like it or hate it, it appears that this is a faith-based book. That is certainly the impression one gets in this wrap-up of several sources that ran at the “On Faith” site at The Washington Post. Of course, you would expect that angle in the faith weblog, right?

However, if one reads the feature in the same newspaper’s Style section, one gets a completely different impression. Here we see the dominant religion that is practiced here in Beltway land, the faith the real world. What does this lengthy feature say about the role of Christianity in the president’s daily life? What are the factors that shape the book?

Prepare to be stunned: It’s all about political gossip. Here’s the one passage that touches on faith.

Two years after leaving office, Bush seems to have settled into a routine of exercise, speeches and local events that matches what he always said he aspired to post-presidency. He gave a motivational speech last fall at a conference, talking about his reliance on God. He spoke at the reopening of a renovated rodeo park in Oklahoma. He spoke to high school seniors in New Mexico, staying away from politics.

Did you blink and miss it? So what are the elements of the book — the personal elements — that jump out to the Style gods? Here is a passage up high that captures the flavor. The context is this crucial question: Will the book improve W’s political image?

His approval rating is still low; 55 percent of Americans disapproved of him as of October, according to an Associated Press poll, and more people continue to blame him for the current economic crisis than blame President Obama.

That may not matter for Bush’s book sales, however, and his strategy of silence ensured the details that have already begun to leak are all the more tantalizing. Among the revelations: He contemplated removing Cheney from the ticket in 2004 and replacing him with Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) but decided not to. He elaborates on his most embarrassing moments before he quit drinking, recounting the time he drunkenly asked a woman at a dinner party what sex after age 50 is like.

Well, now. Please read the whole feature. I think that it’s stunningly faith free, even in comparison with other MSM coverage.

So after looking over the story, take a stab at this question: What is the Washington Post Style headline for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ/End of the World/Etc., Etc.? Anyone want to imagine what that would be?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jay

    WaPo Headline?

    Religious Leaders ImploreSo-Called “Messiah” ToBe Less Judgmental

  • Jerry

    Terry, you’re my kind of religious reporter: I see you found a religious site for those headlines, the Church of the Subgenius and, from a link at that site, I found the exact date (dates) when the world ended/will end: http://www.signsofwitness.com/exact-dates-of-the-end-of-the-world

    A style section headline should be “What to wear to the Second Coming” but I guess style sections in 2010 are not like they used to be.

    But you missed a “religious” reference which, in the highest (lowest) tradition of politics I made up from a couple of words totally out of context. To wit, “left behind.” which ended the first paragraph. I feel only a little guilty about this but given how many political ads were no better, I did it anyway.

    I’m far from a supporter of his, but I have to agree with him about politics being a swamp.

    And I’m wondering when one of my friends on the left will write a book: “Was it Dubya’s or Cheney’s fault after all” given that some on any given day thought that Cheney was Bush’s Rasputin or that it was Bush’s fault after all.

    Sigh.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    Style sction headline: LBDs Out. White Robes In.

  • BC

    Dozens Attend “Messiah’s” Mall Rally

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    BC:

    Now there you go. That’s a good one.

  • John M

    Jesus Returns: Won’t Rule Out Run in 2012

  • Dave

    Since all marital bonds would be dissolved and no one, gay or straight, would be married, the WaPo Style section headline would be: EQUAL AT LAST!

    he drunkenly asked a woman at a dinner party what sex after age 50 is like

    Couldn’t he have just waited and found out for himself?

  • Passing By

    “Jesus Returns: Impact on Washington Public Schools Debated”

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “One of the things that young reporters struggle with is the realization that there is no one perfect way to approach a given news story.”

    What?

    “Old” reporters don’t struggle with this?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Not a headline, but I couldn’t help but be more amused at how Reuters “handled” the religion angle:

    Bush quit drinking in 1986 at age 40, found religion and his career took off.

    That’s it. In-depth religion coverage at its best.

  • bob

    It wouldn’t get *any* coverage at all unless it coincided with the annual Christmas or Easter cover story with really bad art and really bad writing. Who’s doing well on Dancing With The Stars would trump God any other day.


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